Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the author of Last Night at the Viper Room, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and (with the original MTV VJs) the New York Times bestseller VJ. I live in Los Angeles. I like caffeine, boardgames, and lists with three items.
The march of progress! Some of my recent work for Rolling Stone, if you’d like to catch up: I interviewed Beck about his all-star Song Reader album (for the print magazine, but also available in a longer version online). Also in the print magazine: my home studio visit with Avicii. I conducted a five-way Q&A with G.R.L., a girl group on the rise (who were much funnier than I expected). I spotlighted cool old live performances by Michael Stipe with Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Hole, Bjork and PJ Harvey, David Bowie and Cher, and New Order (on the set of Baywatch). I interviewed club promoter and convicted killer Michael Alig, musicians Nico & Vinz, producer Quincy Jones, and director Spike Lee (about Do the Right Thing). If you’re feeling list-oriented, you might want to check out my rundowns of drummers who became guitarists, big hit singles not sung by the band’s usual lead singer, bizarre free-throw shooters, sports fans humiliated on camera, extraordinarily long home runs, and crazy Rick James stories–and my contributions to the ranking of the 100 greatest Seinfeld characters.
In a newsy vein, I wrote about the death of Bobby Womack, an upcoming Johnny Ramone tribute, a potential Kinks reunion, and Star Wars spinoff director Josh Trank. I also reviewed a live Jack White show. And I’m particularly proud of my analysis of a sequence from Pulp Fiction (the section featuring Bruce Willis and the Gimp).
Congratulations to “Weird Al” Yankovic, who just topped the Billboard charts with his latest album, Mandatory Fun. I’ve seen some sources claim it’s the first comedy album to top the chart since 1960, when Bob Newhart unleashed the monster hit that was The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (14 weeks at #1!). In fact, there were a bunch of other chart-topping comedy albums in the early 1960s: in 1961, for example, Newhart had a #1 followup, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! And Allan Sherman (now best remembered for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”) released three chart-topping albums of song parodies: yes, he was the Weird Al of his day. My Son, the Folk Singer (1962) was followed in 1963 by My Son, the Celebrity and My Son, the Nut. As far as I can tell, My Son, the Nut was the last #1 comedy album before Mandatory Fun, making for a gap of 51 years. Steve Martin came close in 1978, though, hitting #2 with A Wild and Crazy Guy.
There was one other early-60s comedy album to hit #1: The First Family, by Vaughn Meader. In case you aren’t familiar with Vaughn Meader: he was a JFK impressionist whose career was stratospheric before November 22, 1963 (The First Family won the Grammy for Album of the Year and sold over 7 million copies) and over after it. Famously, at Lenny Bruce’s first gig after the JFK assassination, he went onstage and opened with the line, “Man, is Vaughn Meader fucked!”
Would you like to catch up on some of my recent Rolling Stone bylines? Of course you would! I had an article in the print edition of the magazine (the Julia Louis-Dreyfus issue) on the all-star sessions recording recently unearthed Dylan lyrics from the Basement Tapes sessions (which was crazy fun to report, hanging out with Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford). I’ve also had a slew of stories on the Rolling Stone website: I ran down a list of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll pets (Martha, my dear, and ten more). I attended the I Heart Radio Awards, got quotes from celebrities, and then wrote up the best and worst moments of the evening. I wrote an item about Steven Soderbergh’s edit of Michael Cimino’s famous bomb Heaven’s Gate. I interviewed Natalie Merchant, Avey Tare, and the awesome EMA (not together). I wrote a news item on an upcoming academic conference about the Who’s Quadrophenia. I reviewed the new-wave history Mad World. I wrote about records intended to have exceptionally limited pressings. I went to Coachella and filed a couple of dozen dispatches about what I saw (as part of a team including Matt Diehl and Steve Appleford–the items aren’t individually bylined, but you might particularly enjoy my Neutral Milk Hotel report). And I compiled a list of six Beatles projects that were once widely available but have now fallen out of print. (Yes, you can find many of them bootlegged on the net, but I’d love for them to come back into print officially.)
I just returned from SXSW, which grows more excessive every year, but still has the cool vibes that come from indie music and BBQ. While in Austin, Texas, I interviewed Neil Young, went to the Lady Gaga show, and contributed to the Rolling Stone roundup of the festival’s best moments. I also had the sobering experience of being right next to a mass vehicular murder by a drunken driver, and getting out of an amazing X show only to find myself shifting gears into being a crime reporter (and photographer).
I also recently wrote three installments of a series of articles on the contents of past issues of Rolling Stone (25, 30, and 40 years ago), which proved to be an entertaining excuse to dip into the magazine’s archives. And I interviewed the mighty Rick Rubin.
Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars made his way into the audience on December 8th, 2013, during his band’s excellent set at the KROQ Acoustic Christmas. He cruised through row 16 (where I was sitting) and then returned to the stage by walking on the tops of the seats–but first, he stopped to give a fan a hug.
(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)
“He’s been bad!” says MTV Voiceover Guy, as we watch Jackson dancing in black leather and buckles. “He’s been smooth!”–a quick cut of him from “Smooth Criminal,” white fedora rakishly tilted over one eye. “Now he takes his own image on!”–tabloids with names like the Intruder are piled onto each other, with headlines such as “MICHAEL AND DIANA SAME PERSON,” “JACKSON’S 3RD EYE STARTS SUNGLASS FAD,” “MICHAEL WEDS ALIEN.” (I note that in the grainy black-and-white image of the alien, it looks like a young boy with a hat, sunglasses, and a funky collar.)
As we see an array of stop-action animation, MTV Voiceover Guy continues, “Witness the world premiere of an animated fantasy, the latest video from Michael Jackson, ‘Leave Me Alone,’ debuting on MTV 5, 8, 9, and 10 pm eastern.” Jackson was never so happy as when he was starring in a movie fantasy: one of the things I remember best from viewing the contents of Neverland when it was put up for viewing before an aborted auction was the vitrines he had commissioned from Disney craftsmen that contained classic scenes of their movies, in some cases with Jackson himself now incorporated. (For example, Pinocchio meets the Blue Fairy while just outside the window a Jackson marionette does a little dance.)
We see a huge stadium filled with a crowd, presumably Michael Jackson fans: somewhere between fifty and ninety thousand people, I’d say. “And cap off the week with MTV’s Michael Jackson Sunday,” MTV Voiceover Guy says. “Including scenes from his brand-new home video, Moonwalker. Only on MTV.”
For many years after Jackson’s commercial peak, MTV was still trying to curry favor with him–in 1988, he was still a big star, but as the years went by, it was mostly out of habit. This clip played three hours ago if you were watching the countdown live in 1988, and years have passed since I wrote about it last in this sporadic web project. Jackson has died since I started recapping the countdown, which makes it play somewhat differently: where once “Leave Me Alone” seemed like a contradictory come-hither from the star of countless attention-seeking videos, now it feels like a sincere, if confused, plea.
A new commercial! A team of five people with black jumpsuits and severe haircuts stride through what appears to be a hallway in a spaceship. “What will the future bring from Nintendo?” the announcer asks. We actually know the answer to this: the GameBoy, and later, the Wii, but what he was looking for was “More hits like The Legend of Zelda!” The walls puff steam and eject Nintendo controllers into the jumpsuit crew’s hands, and then we see some blocktastic computer-game graphics. Whatever important intergalactic mission the jumpsuiters was on is abandoned as they play videogames. The tagline: “Now you’re playing with power.”
Another new commercial! This one is for the VHS release of The Presidio, which I have never seen. Judging from this short ad, I feel confident saying that it stars Sean Connery, Mark Harmon, and an upside-down car on fire.
We wrap up our commercial break with spots from our local cable provider, UA-Columbia Cablevision: a Season’s Greetings message and the commercial for the pay-per-view Royal Rumble. Then an animated bumper: a squiggly line interacts with various bits of public-domain clip art, in an updated version of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cartoons. We see a scientist, an alarmed maiden, a woman with a butterfly net, a stomping foot, an miner with a pickaxe, a milkmaid swinging on a rope, and a family watching TV. The squiggle briefly turns into an MTV logo, and then gets sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.